Area schools see rising, falling grades in 2016 Children at Risk report

Principals at schools like Helms Elementary know better than anyone that turning around a school is a long process. That’s why principal John Baker is taking this year’s report by Children At Risk in stride with the improvements made at the local elementary and awaiting this year’s final STAAR results to see what impact it will have on next year’s rating.



Helms Elementary’s score, which was graded a D- compared to a F in 2015 and a C in 2014, is an indicator of the beginning of that turnaround.

“As we continue to improve our school and build on this year’s successes, including exceeding the district average on our first round of 2016 STAAR scores in both reading and math, our growing community support, expanded extracurricular opportunities for kids, and our new Hispanic Art and Culture ancillary class, I am eager to see this year’s final STAAR results and the impact it will have on next year’s rating,” Baker said. “Our teachers, parents, and students are working together to keep making Helms a better place to learn each year.”

This year marks the 11th year of Children at Risk’s annual school rankings across the state. The study has received both praise and criticism from administrators, parents and community members as principals continue to put in their sweat, blood and tears to improve area schools.

Last year, former Durham Elementary principal Angela Sugarek criticized the methodology of the organization for producing a list of schools “loosely grouped according to the inverse relationship of the percentage of students who are poor to students who are gifted.” She argued that reporting that the “affluent, gifted kids” go to the best schools is not news in and of itself.

This year, however, Durham showed marked improvements according to the study. Last year the school received an F, but that jumped to a C this year. Current principal Amy Poerschke said she was “incredibly proud” of the effort of teachers and students in improving their spot with the report and is an ancillary gain from improving other programs.

“We attribute these gains to the effective implementation of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme,” Poerschke said. “Durham’s rating will only continue to improve in coming years as the first rounds of 5th grade end-of-year assessments are showing a 9 percent and 86 percent improvement in reading and math, respectively. We are thrilled to be equipping our students for academic success as they transition to middle school.”

Similar big gains were seen this year at Frank Black Middle School as well. Principal Paolo Castagnoli said the jump from a D- last year to a B- in one year was a testament to the hard work of students, teachers and community members.

However, like other area educators, Castagnoli scrutinized Children at Risk and their scoring process.

“It is important to note that Children at Risk only looks at one thing, standardized test scores, and fails to acknowledge the many other aspects that go into a child’s education,” Castagnoli said. “We here at Frank Black are proud to support a well-rounded approach to education which is emphasized by our commitment to excellence in academics, athletics and the arts.”

Last year, Castagnoli said the D- score wasn’t close to the reality the school was facing at the time, as the school saw a 10 percent increase on the first round of 2015 STAAR test results and increases in Vanguard applications and attendance, according to last year’s report in The Leader.

Other schools regressed in the rankings, with Waltrip and Reagan High Schools receiving a D- and a C+, down from a C+ and a B-, respectively. Other schools maintained their grades, including Oak Forest Elementary again receiving an A+ along with Travis Elementary.

The improvements at schools like Durham and Helms in the rankings might be a sign of returning stability. In an interview in last year’s report, HISD trustee Anna Eastman said there was “tumultuous” turnover at Durham, along with Scarborough and Helms.

“When these schools stabilize, they’ll be in a better place for improvement,” Eastman said.


Grading Methodology

According to Children at Risk’s methodology, schools are ranked across three indices: student achievement, campus performance and growth. High schools are also ranked by the college readiness index. Within each index, a weighted score was calculated for each campus and, using these three index scores, a weighted average was calculated to create an overall composite index.

The student achievement index reflects raw performance in key achievement areas. For elementary, middle school and high school, student achievement indicators are calculated from a 50-50 percent split between STAAR Reading and STAAR Math (both advanced).

The campus performance index is designed to “demonstrate the relationship between the percent of economically disadvantaged students and their performance on the indicators used for the Student Achievement Index.” Each campus graded by CAR received a positive or negative deviation score based on “the difference between its actual score and the expected score.”

The growth index is designed to capture improvement over time in standardized test scores and is “composed of gain scores in math and reading, which measure student-level perfromance relative to a student’s test-score peers,” according to the methodology. These peers are all of the students across the entire state who took the same subject-matter test last year and posted the same score at the same grade level.

As an example, the organization says the peer group for a 6th grade math student scoring 20 on the 5th grade math test is “everyone who also scored a 20 on the 5th grade math test, statewide.”

For high schools, a College Readiness Index is also used, which includes graduation rates, the participation rates for SAT/ACT and AP/IB exams, average SAT and ACT scores and the percent of examinees above AP/IB criterion.


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